Jack Hulland Elementary School. (Yukon News file)

Jack Hulland Elementary School. (Yukon News file)

Yukon Government resists class-action status for Jack Hulland Elementary lawsuit

Defence requests that the lawsuit move forward as a regular proceeding

The Yukon government has denied the majority of allegations set out in a class-action lawsuit application regarding holds and restraints at Jack Hulland Elementary School.

A statement of defence was filed on Feb. 27. The government and school council are listed as defendants; the lawsuit alleges that the council and department shared a duty of care for the school, and that the council had authority over its policies and procedures.

The lawsuit was filed by the parents of two former students, who also volunteered to represent the class members as a whole in a class-action proceeding. The statement of claim was filed on Oct. 31.

If approved, the lawsuit would include all current and former students subjected to holds and restraints between January 2002 and June 2022.

In its statement of defence, the government claims the matter isn’t “suitable” as a class-action lawsuit. It also says that the two former students, represented by their parents, aren’t suitable representative plaintiffs. Reasoning isn’t included in the document.

The defence requests that the lawsuit move forward as a regular proceeding. It further requests that all allegations be dismissed if they aren’t proven in court.

The defence states that nearly every allegation set out in the statement of claim did not happen as described.

The statement of claim alleges a system at Jack Hulland in which disobedient, “emotionally heightened, dysregulated and/or upset” students would be subjected to holds and restraints. Staff are described as, on different occasions, restraining students two- or three-to-one, taking turns restraining students over several hours, sitting on students’ torsos and applying pressure to students’ arms and joints while restraining them.

The lawsuit also alleges that four cubicles were built, referred to as study hall or the Nest, and used as “isolation cells.” It alleges that children were enclosed in the cubicles for varying lengths of time, sometimes spanning recess and lunch.

Former students recounted severe emotional damage as a result. The statement of claim alleges that some Jack Hulland students suffered “assault, battery and false imprisonment” while attending the school, resulting in long-term issues with anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. It is alleged that one child was hospitalized twice and admitted to care outside the territory after leaving the school.

The defence concedes the existence of “small rooms … to provide quiet spaces where students could be away from the stimulus of a group and regain their composure or ability to regulate their emotional responses.” It agrees that some students were placed in the rooms more than once, sometimes over a recess or lunch. It says students weren’t always able to leave the room without a staff member’s assistance.

“This restriction on their freedom of movement could, in many of these instances, properly be characterized as involuntary,” the defence reads.

However, the defence says that overly emotive language unfairly characterizes the rooms as “isolation cells.” It continues that terms like “seclusion,” “confinement” and “imprisonment,” as described by the two plaintiffs, misconstrues the use of the rooms.

The defence concludes that staff should only be found to have used “unnecessary or excessive” force and restrictions if they were necessary to prevent harm to students, staff or property and disruption to educational activities or school operations.

In that case, it was an actionable wrong for which the department accepts liability, the defence reads. It adds that the “full factual context” of each particular instance is required to gauge this.

The defence also applies for the school council to be cleared of all liability; claiming that the council “has no responsibility for the operation of Jack Hulland Elementary School.” It says that all responsibility falls under the Education minister, as set out in the Education Act.

Contact Gabrielle Plonka at gabrielle.plonka@yukon-news.com